Shirley Chisholm and Kamala Harris: A Look at Black Women in Politics

As the 2020 Presidential Election results came in on Saturday, November 7, Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris emerged as the next President-elect and Vice President-elect, respectively, of the United States. People from all over have gone to social media to express their feelings and initial reactions to the election overall, but more specifically towards Kamala Harris. 

Harris is officially the first female Vice President in the history of the United States. Not only that, coming from a Jamaican-American father and an Indian-American mother, she is also the first woman of color that has stepped into this position. 

As a half-Black woman, she has brought lots of relief and empowerment to Black women– but what does her win truly mean for us? She may be the first, but what does her entrance into office mean for the community?

Harris has experienced numerous instances of racism, questioning of her blackness, and differing opinions of her, but her role as Vice President-elect has continued to uplift millions of Black girls and women around the country. Having to deal with the oppression of being both a woman and an African-American can be mentally and emotionally degenerating. Now little Black girls all around the country can find confidence in their voices and identities as growing Black women,  progressively proving why representation matters. 

With all great accomplishments, the need to return to the roots are evident. As achievements and momentous occurrences are praised today, we should also recognize who paved the way in the past, allowing us to reach this point in the present. Without the strength of the people before us, we wouldn’t be able to reach the heights that we have reached today.  

Introducing Shirley Anita Chisholm: the first African-American woman to be elected into Congress in 1968. Born on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York, Chisholm was the eldest of 4 siblings and had immigrant parents. In 1942, she graduated high school from Brooklyn Girls’ High and later graduated from Brooklyn College cum laude in 1946. Throughout her schooling, her professors always saw a future for her in politics and encouraged her, but she recognized early the barrier she faced because of her race and gender. Originally, she was a nursery school teacher and a director of two daycares. She even earned her master’s degree in 1951 from Columbia University in early childhood education. 

Always aware of her identity as a Black woman and the struggles of equality Black women face, Chisholm joined numerous organizations and associations such as the League of Women Voters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, and more. 

In 1964, Chisholm ran and won a seat in the New York State Legislature, becoming the second African-American to do so. Due to her neighborhood district becoming heavily Democratic from a court-ordered redistricting, Chisholm won her seat in Congress in 1968.

“I want to be remembered as a woman…who dared to be a catalyst of change.” -Shirley Chisholm

Now nicknamed “Fighting Shirley,” Chisholm later moved on to introduce numerous pieces of legislation, conquer racial and gender inequality issues and addressed the issue of poverty. She co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971 and became the first African-American woman to serve on the House Rules Committee. Unfortunately, racist and sexist discrimination prevented her further pursuit for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination.

In 1983, Chisholm retired from Congress, later teaching at Mount Holyoke College and co-founding the National Political Congress of Black Women. She died on January 1, 2005, in  Ormond Beach, FL. Throughout her career, Chisholm was a role model for students, women, and all minorities. She gave hope to all non-white men that anyone can do anything they wanted, despite the hardships and barriers against them. She set the tone for Black women and women of color in government and the impact they could make, especially considering the time period she accomplished these things. Despite the obstacles she faced, Chisholm created a legacy that impacts all women of color today, including Kamala Harris. Kamala’s accomplishment isn’t only hers, it’s for all of the Black and south Asian women in this country, which couldn’t have happened without the work of women like Shirley Chisholm. 

“I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”Shirley Chisholm

Remember Black queens, you are capable of so much more than you think.

Image source: PBS